Budget 2021: £520m boost to SME digital productivity
Written by: Richard Hook | Published:
Chancellor Rishi Sunak and team at 11 Downing St Chancellor Rishi Sunak and team delivered a positive Budget for digital communications (credit: HM Treasury Flickr)

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has set out the government's post-pandemic tax and spending plans including a £520m scheme to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) access better digital communications.

Under the Help to Grow scheme, the government said it would encourage more companies to adopt digital technology, “opening up opportunities for smaller companies that larger businesses can afford”.

The chancellor said: “Our brilliant SMEs are the backbone of our economy, creating jobs and generating prosperity, so it’s vital they can access the tools they need to succeed.

“Help to Grow will ensure they are embracing the latest technology and management training, fuelling our plan for jobs by boosting productivity in all corners of the UK.”

However, Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) national chair Mike Cherry warned that a lack of access to 5G for businesses could limit the effectiveness of the scheme.

“Crucially with all digital schemes, it is a reminder that for many, access to fast high-speed broadband remains a premium depending where you go in the country,” said Cherry.

“We cannot allow poor infrastructure through a lack of broadband or 5G to prevent small firms from getting a foothold onto important schemes like this. We have argued that the UK’s productivity challenge needed practical changes to help small businesses to improve their operations and drive efficiency and growth. This means more of a ‘new-to-firm’ approach for innovation, such as helping small businesses access things such as the cloud where currently less than half use cloud services.

“We cannot allow poor 5G [infrastructure] to prevent firms getting on to schemes like this," Mike Cherry

“[We support] projects like this [that] really make a difference for small firms who are wanting to change the way they operate, expand their horizons as well as strengthen the economy for all.”

Digital capability boost

According to the government, the Help to Grow scheme will have two streams — digital and management.

This will involve tens of thousands of small businesses being offered 50 hours of free MBA-style management training to help them boost productivity and improve their digital capability.

Free MBA-style management training

Businesses will also receive vouchers for 50 per cent off approved software which could include business apps like Skype for Business or what3words.

Julian David, CEO of techUK, the lobby group for the country's technology sector, has also welcomed the £520m digital support package.

"During the pandemic, companies able to take advantage of the latest digital technologies to adapt to social distancing restrictions were not just able to survive but to thrive, growing up to eight times faster than those who did not use digital tools,” he said.

"If delivered effectively, research has shown that support for digital adoption can help SMEs increase their revenues and productivity, and create job opportunities across the UK. techUK has long supported initiatives to support digital adoption for SMEs and this package of support could not come at a more vital time, and we and our members stand ready to help deliver this initiative."

Sunak’s second budget also saw a further boost for R&D investment with an R&D tax credits regime to help make “Britain a scientific superpower.” The tax credits consultation will run until June with the government saying it will use the findings to achieve "an ambitious target to raise total investment in research and development to 2.4 per cent of UK GDP by 2027”.

Image credits:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/hmtreasury/509994390... and https://unsplash.com/photos/5fNmWej4tAA

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